Bossa Nova


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Bossa Nova

Bossa nova is a style of Brazilian music invented in the late 1950s by a group of middle-class students and musicians living in the Copacabana and Ipanema beachside districts of Rio de Janeiro. The name could be translated as "the new beat" or "the new way." In Brazil, it became well known through the record "Chega de Saudade," performed by João Gilberto and composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes. The record was released in 1958.

Origins and history

The music derives from samba but is more complex harmonically and less percussive. The genre is highly influenced by cool jazz and became massively popular in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America. It also enjoyed major international success during brief periods of popularity such as after the release of the film Black Orpheus in 1959 and with Stan Getz's recordings in the 1960s.

Whether bossa nova can be called a movement is under debate. However, it is widely recognized to have been an important event in Brazilian music history. It introduced complex harmonies, a close relationship between lyrics and music, and a general concern for arrangement and musical form. It influenced later movements such as Tropicália and MPB. Bossa nova repertoire consists predominantly of songs, while the instrumental music similar to it is generally called samba-jazz.

Perhaps the best known bossa nova song is Antonio Carlos Jobim's The Girl from Ipanema (A Garota de Ipanema), which is widely known in both its original Portuguese and in English translation.


Bossa nova is most commonly performed on the nylon-string classical guitar, played fingerstyle (without a pick). Its purest form could be considered unaccompanied guitar with vocals, as exemplified by João Gilberto. Even in larger jazz-like arrangements for groups, there is almost always a guitar that plays the underlying rhythm.

Though not as prominent as the guitar, the piano is another important instrument of bossa nova; Jobim wrote for the piano and performed on it for most of his own recordings. The piano has also served as a stylistic bridge between bossa nova and jazz, enabling a great deal of cross-pollination between the two.

Drums and percussion are not considered essential bossa nova instruments: in fact, the creators had sought to eliminate percussion. Nonetheless, there is a distinctive bossa nova drumming style, characterized by continuous eighths on the high-hat (mimicking the samba tambourine) and tapping of the rim.

Lush orchestral accompaniment is often associated with bossa nova's North American image as "elevator" or "lounge" music. While it is present in much of Jobim's own recordings, it is rarely heard elsewhere.


Bossa nova is at its core a rhythm based on samba. Samba combines rhythmic patterns and feel originating in former African slave communities with elements of European march music. Samba's emphasis on the first beat carries through to bossa nova (to the degree that it is often notated in 2/4 time). When played on the guitar, the thumb plays the bass notes on 1 and 3, while the fingers pluck the chords in unison on 1 and 2, delayed on 3. Overall, the rhythm has a swaying rather than swinging (as in jazz) feel. As bossa nova composer Carlos Lyra describes it in his song "Influência do Jazz", the samba rhythm moves "side to side" while jazz moves "front to back".

Here is an example of a basic bossa nova rhythm as would be played on a guitar, using a C6/9 chord.

Image:Basic bossa nova guitar rhythm.PNG

In terms of harmonic structure, bossa nova has a great deal in common with jazz, in its sophisticated use of seventh and extended chords. The first bossa nova song, "Chega de Saudade," borrowed some structural elements from choro; however, later compositions rarely followed this form. Jobim often used challenging, almost dissonant melody lines, the best-known being in the tunes "Desafinado" or "Off-Key".

In terms of lyrical themes and length of songs (typically two to four minutes), bossa nova is very much a "popular music" style. However, the typical structure differs slightly from European and North American rock-based music's standard format of two verses followed by a bridge, and a closing verse; bossa nova songs usually have no more than two lyrical verses, and almost never a bridge. Some of João Gilberto's earliest recordings were less than two minutes long, and some had a single lyrical verse that was simply repeated.

Origin of the term "bossa nova"

Bossa nova means "new bossa", but according to Ruy Castro, author of Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World, the word "bossa" itself was "far from new" at the time of "Chega De Saudade," and had "been used by musicians since the days of yore to define someone who played or sang differently....In 1932, Noel Rosa used the word in a samba...which went O samba, a prontidão e outras bossas/São nossas coisas, são coisas nossas (Samba, empty pockets and other bossas/Are our specialities." Castro writes that in 1958, an editor in Brazil, Moysés Fuks, wrote a program for a show featuring Roberto Menescal and other performers, and billed it as a "bossa nova evening." Castro writes, "The origin of the expression has never been completely clarified." (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Click below for the best in free Bossa Nova lessons and resources available on the web.

Bossa Nova (pdf/Fender Players Club)
Bossa Nova Guitar Player Page
Brazilian Guitar (
Classic Bossa Nova (WholeNote)
Girl From Ipanema (MoneyChords)
Learn To Play Bossa Nova Accompaniment (Acoustic Guitar)
One Note Samba (MoneyChords)
Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (MoneyChords)

Bossa Nova for Guitar
by Paul Donat
This free 12 page pdf book is a good place to start your study of bossa nova guitar. [Download your copy here] Don't forget to check out Paul Donat's web site at

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